Diablo 3 Controls Debate

Earlier this week we saw the preview of Wyatt Cheng’s upcoming GDC Diablo 3 Postmortem, which listed the three main topics for his talk: Health Recover, Skills, and Diablo 3 Controls. Comments on that piece ranged widely, but quite a few of you guys had thoughts about the controls, which I (mostly) criticized in the post itself. I wanted to say more at that point, but to avoid totally sidetracking the news post I saved them for later. Later is now.

413aGx+lZWL._SX300_In a way I’m glad I didn’t write much more at that point, since it was informative reading all comments you guys made on that post. Safe to say that opinions are all over the place on Diablo 3’s controls, and which peripherals are best used to play the game. Several people recommended departing from the simple keyboard/mouse default, and suggested using a gamepad or a gaming mouse and programming the extra keys to do useful things.

Conveniently for my purpose, the day after that Wyatt Cheng news item, a fan brought up almost my exact complaint in a post on B.net and got a Blue reply:

Elective mode doesn’t do what the tool tip describes for left click the tool tip states the following “Enable full customization of skill selection and placement on the action bar.” yet when I try to assign certain skills and this applies to all classes and annoying for all of them when you want to place something to left click and the game just doesn’t allow for it skills like Caltrops, Preparation, and a lot of others just won’t allow for it.

That isn’t full customization as the tool tip states that’s “partial” customization and there is no point to it and to make matter worse you can’t even reassign your left and right click buttons in the game bindings…
Liogela: You can’t change skills without your skill pane open. Open the skill pane, and then do everything you’ve been describing, and you should be able to move stuff around.

Okay, not the strongest Blue reply in history, as it completely misses the point of the OP, which is that many skills can *not* be assigned to the left click, whether you have the skills window open or not. This is intentional and necessary, since various skills trigger any time you click the button (such as buffs) and thus they can’t be used on the left click or you’d just stand still casting until you were out of resource.

So why does this really matter, other than by player choice? How did Diablo 2 handle controls? Can peripherals like a gaming mouse or gaming keypad fix the problem? And how could the problem be easily fixed by the developers?

Let’s start by revisiting Diablo 2’s controls, since Diablo 3 took that basic system and updated it…

Diablo 2’s Controls

Diablo 2’s controls varied quite a bit from Diablo 3’s and not just in function, since the basic game was very different. In D3 you only get six skills, and that’s a major strategic feature since it forces players to find a balance between offensive options, buffs, and defensive choices. This was a big point of contention in the early days of D3, as many players wanted a D2 style system where they could use 3 or 4 attack skills… without dying horribly and constantly due to a lack of buffs and defensive options. (We’re still waiting on that.)

In D2 defensive skills weren’t as necessary, but if they had been it wouldn’t have been a problem, since the game let you pick as many skills as you wanted, limiting that only by how you spent your skill points. The controls were much more free as well, since D2 didn’t force you to map the skills to any particular hotkeys, or to the LMB or RMB. Players could leave basic functions like Attack or Throw on their left and/or right click, and you could map those functions or any of the skills to either the LMB or RMB. (With LMB exceptions similar to those we see in D3, where you can’t put buffs or other auto-casting stuff on the LMB.)

So yes, D2’s system allowed great freedom and flexibility, but at the cost of forcing you to do an incredibly amount of mouse button clicking. D2C had 8 and D2X upped that to 16 hotkeys, and players could use those keys to map almost any of their skills to either mouse button (or both). The drawback of the D2 system was that to actually use a skill you had to activate it with the mouse buttons. There was no direct casting of skills with just a keyboard click (as we get in D3), which made for some very tired mouses, as players cycled multiple skills through their LMB and RMB. (As was pointed out in comments on that Wyatt Cheng item earlier this week, some of the constant-clicking D3 builds (such as the CM Wizard) would be a real pain with the D2 control system.)

I’m not saying D2’s system was the best thing ever, and in retrospect it’s obvious that adding direct casting with keys would have been a big improvement. (Some players enabled this with UI mods or by mapping right click options to the extra buttons on their gaming mouses.)

For instance when playing a Bowazon I’d often spend a 10 second battle standing almost motionless with my RMB depressed the entire time, while clicking keyboard buttons to change which skills my RMB was activating 2 or 3x a second. (Skills could also be cycled through via the mouse wheel, or multi-button mouses, but I found those options slower and less precise.)

In a typical boss battle sequence I’d do something like this with the right click (while moving the mouse around constantly, to change targeting):

  1. Valkyrie (summon tank minion)
  2. Multishot (spray of arrows to hit everything)
  3. Multishot
  4. Freezing Arrow (CC slow effect)
  5. Slow Missile (ranged attacker/Lightning boss debuff)
  6. Freezing Arrow
  7. Multishot
  8. Immolation Arrow (DoT AoE to bigger targets)
  9. Multishot
  10. Freezing Arrow
  11. Decoy (Mirror Image-style distraction to monsters.)
  12. Multishot
  13. Multishot
  14. Immolation Arrow
  15. Multishot
  16. Strafe (auto-targeting machine gun to pick off scattered stragglers)

Etc. That’s maybe 10 seconds of battle, and I can remember longer fights in multiplayer games during which I’d shoot dry an entire quiver of arrows, just cycling between MS, FA, and Immo. (No, I don’t really miss having to carry or scrounge for quivers. That’s one bit of realism I’m fine not carrying over to D3.)

The above is a hypothetical example, since putting points into that many different skills was suboptimal in D2 (especially in the current version with so many synergies), but I did builds very similar to that in D2C and early D2X, while learning the game and needing to use a variety of skills to cover for equipment shortcomings. And I played in similar style with a Sorceress as well before synergies ended the fun variety possible with three-tree Sorc builds.

A similar play style could be done with the D3 controls, but you’d have to map Valkyrie, Decoy, and Slow Missiles to your keyboard keys, you’d be stuck with Freezing Arrow or Multishot or Immo Arrow on your LMB, one of the others on your RMB, and then you’ve already run out of hotkeys with several skills yet to map. Numbers of skills aside, yes, D2’s control system would have been much improved by allowing direct casting from keyboard keys… but by the same token, D3’s would be much improved by freeing up the LMB to just be a basic attack, if a player desired.

Why I Can’t Have the Monk I Want

Specific example time:

Another monk build.

There’s my argument against the current controls in Diablo 3. I’d love to use that build (some of the time) for my Monk, with the default attack skill, a Mantra, a DiabloWikipanic button, the mandatory Sweeping Wind, and 2 short duration damage buffs, but it can’t be done… unless you stick the attack skill on the left mouse button, since zero of the other skills can be mapped to that key.

So what’s the problem? The problem with that is that it really sucks to have your DiabloWikicombo attack skill on the left click with a Monk.

That’s the default control scheme, and I suffered under that enforced regime for some time, until I experimented and discovered how much better the Monk plays if you put your main attack skill on the right click. It’s not some finger-preference, it’s due to how the LMB and RMB work in Diablo games. I doubt this explanation is necessary for any experienced Diablo player, but just in case (and so the devs will understand)…

To hit things with a melee attack with the LMB, you have to actually point at the target and click. Every single time you want to pick a new target. You can hold down the left click as long as you’re hitting the same target, but in the current state of the game that’s almost never more than .5 seconds per target, which means you’re basically clicking every single time you attack with the left mouse button. You can move by keeping the LMB depressed, but if you hold down the LMB it will *not* auto-acquire a target. You’ll just run in that direction and bump into the monster. (Which is useful for times you want to run past stuff without using the no-target key, so the LMB does need to work that way.)

So, using the LMB you have to constantly click click click to keep acquiring new targets and attacking them, and that sucks as a combat option since you’ll miss clicking moving targets, miss things you can’t see due to explosions, and constantly pick up crap on the ground. That last is the biggest annoyance, and my enjoyment playing a Monk was suffering considerably in the early days since after every few fights I’d have to open up my Inventory and pick out 6 or 8 white items, like corn kernels from between my teeth.

In contrast, if you use the LMB for melee attacks… you can just hold it down. Targets are auto-acquired and locked onto, you move freely if you’re not pointing at an enemy, and you never pick up anything with the right click. You do have to click sometimes, to target destructibles like barrels or to click open doors, or to change your locked on attack to a different monster (such as when the first one runs or teleports away and you go chasing after it instead of hitting something else nearby) but it’s so much quicker and easier and more efficient in combat that once you start playing that way you’ll wonder how you ever managed with all that left clicking in the past.

BTW, if you’re wondering what should you put on the left click with a Monk or other melee character? Whatever. Any supplemental attack skill. For the Monk you can use Tempest Rush, Wave of Light, Exploding Palm, another combo skill for the buff (such as Blazing Fists, etc. These skills you use occasionally, usually triggering them with Shift+LMB so you can cast them anytime/anywhere (without needing to click on or move to an enemy).

Monk Build

Above you see the the build my level 34 Hardcore Monk is currently using, and I’m really enjoying the Wave of Light: Explosive Light on the left click. (Though it would be easier to use/cast if I could stick it on a keyboard option and leave the LMB just for movement.) After all the patch buffs the Monk skills have received I think it’s actually DiabloWikiOP now, at least for the pre-Inferno levels. It deals 360 degree damage, fast casting, good range, and is damaging enough to one-shot all trash mobs and Boss minions even on MP10. Thus my HC Monk’s play time for the past 6 or 8 levels has basically been all about punching enough to get up the Spirit so I can Explosive Light and kill everything within about 40 yards.


I would be remiss not to mention peripherals, as a number of you guys shared your recommendations in the comments on the previous controls post. For example:

41zpEGH58rL._SX300_I for one would never use the keyboard for 4 abilities myself. You simply have to rebind those 4 keyboard keys to your extra mouse buttons. I assume the vast majority of gamers have a nice mouse with many extra buttons(if you don’t, do yourself a huge favor and get one).

Personally I have 5 of my abilities on my mouse. I could have all 6, but I like have just 1 on my keyboard(generally something I cast a lot sitting right under my pointer finger on keyboard).

Everyone needs to get a gamepad or equivalent. When you get that, your control problems go away, at least in most games. When I played WoW, the difference was night and day. This thing makes WASD controls pretty good for D3 or other iso games.

That’s great and if players prefer those devices go for it… but as far as I know, neither option changes the basic problem in Diablo 3, which is that you’ve got to map something to a key that acts as the LMB, and it will move your character, target enemies, and pick stuff up, depending on how you click it.

Also, I keep mentioning the Monk (the Barb has the same problem, with some builds) since this issue doesn’t really exist for ranged attackers. I play a lot of Demon Hunter (and my WD and Wiz are both over lvl 60 as well) have never (really) minded how the LMB works there, since I just use Shift+LMB with ranged attacks to mimic the RMB function. You need to map your hotkeys to something that makes the shift key easy to reach at the same time as your other hotkeys (or map the Shift to some other finger with a keypad or gaming mouse), but I’ve had no trouble getting used to that in D3 (after doing all ranged attacks with RMB in D2). You just map your Multishot or Ball Lightning or Hungering Arrow or Spike Traps or whatever to the LMB and every time you want to use it without directly targeting something, you just Shift+LMB and fire away.

You can use a keyboard hotkey in the same way, but for many players (including me) it just *feels* better or more natural to use the mouse buttons for attack skills. I do use the keyboard for some of them, though generally only at lower levels since later on you’ve only got 1 or 2 attack skills with defense or buffs on the other 4, but that still feels sort of unnatural, after my years (decades) of play time on D1 and D2.

But of course even if you prefer keyboard clicking for your attack skills, you still have the same problem… that whatever key you use to work as the LMB function has to have a skill mapped to it.

The Solution

It’s quite easy. The devs just need to add a 5th hotkey and allow players to map (or not) basic attack or even just a “move” function to the LMB. (I’d personally put the same melee attack on LMB and RMB, but use RMB 99% of the time.) That control change would be optional, of course. If you like the current system you can keep using it. But players who wanted to could escape the hobbling trap of having to stick a skill on the LMB, would be able to do so.

Note that I’m not saying add a 7th skill; that would be an interesting and I think welcome change, but it would be a huge switch to how builds work in Diablo 3, either allowing more offensive options or (more likely) much stronger characters as everyone added another buff or debuff or CC option. But even if they did add a 7th skill, I’d still want the option to *not* map one to the LMB, for reasons covered in this article.

Console control UI.

Console control UI.

The real irony? The console controls work basically how I want the PC to work. It’s not the same with a joystick thumbpad of course, but you see a closeup of the console control UI to the right, and there are 7 input keys, with 1 potion and 6 skills, none of which are somehow tied to the character movement option.

At last I agree with the tinfoil haters… the console really did ruin everything in D3!

Okay, not really, and not this or anything else is likely to make me pick up the console Diablo 3 (for one thing, I’d need to pick up a console first), but it’s funny that the console controls, at least in this instance, are an improvement over the default PC system.

So how do you guys feel about the Diablo 3 controls? Happy as they are? Like my suggestion for change? Got your own ideas for improvements? If you could wave a wand and create your own UI mod, what would it feature?

Tagged As: | Categories: Diabloii.Net Articles, Interface, Merchandise


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  1. Wow this “Liogela” sounds like a real winner.

  2. The case for not being allowed to map certain skills to the LMB because they’d interfere with moving isn’t really valid. By using a move key (which I actually prefer as it avoids accidentally targeting something in a heated battled when you’re really just trying to move) you don’t have this problem. It just seems to be yet another (albeit small) example of the design philosophy of “we know what’s best for you” rather than allowing the player to make their own choices, within reason.

  3. +1 million to flux’s suggestion. I’ve been begging for this since beta. There needs to be an option to remap left click to move/interact and add key to use your left click skill. You can use hold position and a move key to get around this, but it really makes ranged classes substantially more difficult to play.

    D3 controls remind me of D1, where it sucked to play rogue because one misclick moved you into the mob you were trying to shoot from afar, and so you had to use awkward hand positions to reach spell hotkeys and shift at the same time. D2 controls were a huge improvement, and I have no idea why d3 went backwards.

    I much prefer ranged characters in other games, but the controls for d3 give me hand cramps when I play ranged classes. First world problems! But seriously, why is left click so hard to remap?

    • Most of the time, I can not see the point in ranged attacks when:

      a) a monster pulls you nearer
      b) a monsters lobs fiery balls, so that you got to get nearer. Any farther from the monster, and your attacks amount to nothing.
      c) a monster can trap you and at the same attack you with a gyring mauve beam, for instance.
      d) other attacks, which in combination kill you to your chagrin.

      In many instances, there aren’t ranged attacks in Diablo III; I also prefer Diablo II’s sytem

    • Have you tried binding “stand still” to spacebar? I started that with D2 and it’s 100 jillion times better for my hand than holding Shift. You have to find a new key for display item names (I think that’s default), but that’s a pretty easy adjustment (mouse wheel up, for instance).

      Mousewheel mapping, by the way, was a tip I picked up elsewhere. For any spamming skill, especially, it’s fantastic to map to mousewheel up and/or down. “force move” on the Mouse 4 (the one customarily used for the “back” button in web browsers) has made an enormous difference for me.

      • My hotkeys are ASDF, and I play with my left pinkie on the shift key all the time, which is easiest for my hand on the keyboard with those other 4. My panic button is usually on A, summoning type skill or temp buff on S, and stuff I cast most often goes on D or F (though LMB and RMB are the most used keys).

        I’m not recommending that set up, but people should definitely map the keys to something that’s easy to reach, especially the shift key, which is essential for constant use if you’re a ranged char and want to target your spells/arrows precisely.

  4. The point of the gamepad is the thumbstick (at least that’s why I use one, although not a Razer). You bind force-move to the thumbstick, and now you only click when you want to use your LMB skill or pick stuff up. True, you still pick up random junk, but that happens even when you’re not in a firefight b/c there’s too many piles of junk nestled around the stuff you actually want to pick up. That said, I would like it so that you only use your LMB skill when you hold position. Right now, I don’t have too many problems w/ Barbs and Monks b/c I never click to move anymore. Use Thunderclap or Cleave on LMB and you can hold-position like those ranged characters.

  5. The LMB CAN indeed auto-acquire a target, but not the primary target.

    – Click a monster with the LMB
    – Before it dies, with the LMB still pressed, move your pointer on another monster in range for the skill you are using
    – When the first monster dies, you will attack the monster your pointer is on

    This system is also responsible for the unwanted pickups and the move forward after you kill a monster.

    Still, I agree with you on the changes the LMB could get.

    • Yes, I’ve noted that, but it’s very easy to not have the mouse on another target when the first one dies. In my experience I’ll get 8 or 10 monsters in a row with that continuing targeting, but then eventually I don’t slide to another one just right and suddenly my char is just running next to enemies instead of hitting them. For efficiency I found it necessary to just left click a ton, before I figured out how much better RMB worked for melee combat.

  6. nice article flux, I agree with it completely.
    “In contrast, if you use the LMB for melee attacks…” – I think thats a typo and you meant RMB.

  7. I found this great program for windows, called Neatmouse. Its free and lets you map your mouse buttons and functions to any keys on your keyboard. When i play torchlight 2 or diablo 3, i turn on neat mouse. I have my lmb and rmb mapped to the z and x buttons on my keyboard. The rest of my attacks are set to c v b n buttons. It is so much easier on my hands and easier to control my character. I just play monk and barbarian so far. I dont like ranged characters but i bet this method would be easier with them as well. I use the track ball on my mouse to move around and target stuff and hit my z(lmb map) and x(rmb map) too attack. I didnt like playing the game before. Now i love it along with torchlight 2.

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